Public Librarianship

The Social Scientist and the Public Library Patron

To my great surprise, it was suggested recently in my class, “Intro to the City II,” that the public is aware of the way in which space produces identity. As a public librarian, I can say with confidence that nothing is farther from the truth. But this does give me an opportunity to address the ongoing tension between the academy and the public – the library is a great symbol of this, having both a public version and an academic version.

Let me tell you a little bit about public library patrons – not only do they not know about how space produces identity, they don’t care. They can’t afford to care because they are doing other things with their lives that take up a hell of a lot of time, like working and parenting and studying STEM. Like so many ideas that we can assert shape reality, the people who actually produce that reality have no need for the ideas. I’m not just saying that to be snarky, (although I am also saying it to be snarky), a central property of the “public” for the academy is the “studied subject.” By and large, the public does not feel the same way about itself.

This division is particularly important because it is one of the few dichotomies that is as real and as true as a concrete block.  One cannot both engage in being and study being at the same time, by necessity the subject of study cannot be the person who is studying, at least at the time he is studying it.  This is a universal truth. However, it also means that someone who is mostly only engaged in being is mostly not engaged in studying being, and therefore a pertinent question arises:

If the process of space producing identity can only itself be observed on reflection, then who is producing the identity? Is it the studied subject, or is it the scholar?

By jtp

Joanna Tova Price has a lot of heart.

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